The Company Store: A Deeper Look at Prison Commissaries
Date:  05-30-2018

A new report claims prison reform advocates should be concerned commissary sales records
From Prison Policy Initiative:

Prison commissaries are an essential but unexamined part of prison life. Serving as the core of the prison retail market, commissaries present yet another opportunity for prisons to shift the costs of incarceration to incarcerated people and their families, often enriching private companies in the process. In some contexts, the financial exploitation of incarcerated people is obvious, evidenced by the outrageous prices charged for simple services like phone calls and email. When it comes to prison commissaries, however, the prices themselves are not the problem so much as forcing incarcerated people — and by extension, their families — to pay for basic necessities.

Understanding commissary systems can be daunting. Prisons are unusual retail settings, data are hard to find, and it’s hard to say how commissaries “should” ideally operate. As the prison retail landscape expands to include digital services like messaging and games, it becomes even more difficult and more important for policymakers and advocates to evaluate the pricing, offerings, and management of prison commissary systems.

The current study

To bring some clarity to this bread-and-butter issue for incarcerated people, we analyzed commissary sales reports from state prison systems in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington. We chose these states because we were able to easily obtain commissary data, but conveniently, these three states also represent a decent cross section of prison systems, encompassing a variety of sizes and different types of commissary management.

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